There are few festivals where you can catch a sketch comedy show about the perils of high school, followed by a fresh take on “Alice in Wonderland,” a two-man play infused with crime and danger and a slapstick parody of the fantasy world all in one afternoon.
But that’s Fringe.
Beginning next Thursday, the Capital Fringe Festival returns to Washington, D.C. The two-week, unconventional festival features more than 100 performances at nearly 20 offbeat venues including empty warehouses throughout the city. The event is one of three annual festivals presented by Capital Fringe, a nonprofit organization aimed at encouraging performance art. The Fort Fringe Box Office on New York Avenue serves as the festival’s home base, but audiences will have to be on the move if they want to enjoy all that Fringe has to offer.
“It’s a very vibrant atmosphere in the sense that you get people coming and going constantly,” says Betsy Marks Delaney, general manager at the Greenbelt Arts Center and a repeat performer at Fringe. This year, Marks Delaney heads to Fringe with the first-ever entry from the Arts Center an avant garde spin on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
Like all Fringe entries, “Alice in Wonderland”, which runs July 15-27, landed a spot in the festival based strictly on a first come, first serve basis. Other than constraints on time (most Fringe shows run close to 75 minutes) and space, there is little restriction placed on performers. With no specific qualifications, Fringe is known for featuring a wide range of performing arts.
“Fringe Festival allows for different kinds of theater that people wouldn’t be aware of,” says Montgomery County native Nick Hitchens, whose show, “Medieval Story Land,” is making its debut at the festival July 17. “Medieval Story Land” is the first show from “Red Knight Productions”, the start-up theater company founded by Hitchens and fellow Thomas S. Wootton High School graduate Scott Courlander. The duo co-produced the project.
Hitchens says the Fringe Festival seemed the perfect place for a new theater company to introduce itself.
“Friends have gotten their start in Fringe and we thought it was an appropriate way to enter the scene,” he says.
“Medieval Story Land” is the satirical tale of an unsuspecting elf who gets himself into a series of precocious situations involving a wizard, trolls and dragons. “There’s just joke after joke after joke,” says Hitchens. “It’s 100 percent appropriate for all ages.”
While “Medieval Story Land” may be suitable for all ages, Bob Bartlett’s “Bareback Ink” certainly is not. The two-man play about a tattoo artist and his client touches on topics like sexuality and crime.
“It’s a drama and it deals with some very heavy issues,” says DC Cathro of Frederick, who plays the tattoo artist.
Bartlett, a theater professor at Bowie State University, wrote the play after his own seemingly destined encounter with a tattoo shop. On March 23, Bartlett set out to get the numbers 3/23 tattooed on his back to commemorate the anniversary of his brother’s death. The experience that followed, including a long conversation with a tattoo artist, became the concept for “Bareback Ink”, opening at the festival July 13.
“It’s not something that a lot of companies are going to embrace,” says Cathro.
“The nature of the play is definitely a play in the margins [with] rather dangerous material,” adds Bartlett. “Fringe is the perfect place for that.”
The beauty of Fringe is that it’s the perfect place for, well, anything. Like the “Breakfast Club”-esque tale, “He Hee! Or What? It’s Not Glee?” co-written by 18-year-old Liam Brennan and performed by members of the Comedy Academy, Inc. in Silver Spring. The recent Northwood High School graduate returns to Fringe this year with his story of high school students in detention, forced to write a sketch comedy show as punishment for their delinquency.
The students use their show as an opportunity to express their frustrations about the world around them.
“It’s things about the way funds are distributed in schools, administrative responses to bullying and they’re all based on true stories,” says Brennan. ”He Hee!” debuts July 14.
Although Fringe performances range from funny to dark to downright outrageous, the artists still manage to find common ground.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to network with other people that you might not have the chance to meet,” says the festival’s executive director, Julianne Brienza.
“There’s much more of a community,” adds Brennan. “Fringe is a big community of people who are sharing the experience of performing with one another.”